For a few minutes, Looted looks as if it’s going to be a laddish, hardscrabble crime caper. It opens with Rob (Charley Palmer Rothwell) participating in a car theft with his mates, led by Leo (Thomas Turgoose), joking about guilty-pleasure musicians and the foreign-language cassette tapes left in the vehicle (“I think we might’ve stolen a car from a terrorist. Are we heroes?”) It quickly becomes clear that Rob and Leo have that Mean Streets-style relationship between a reluctant criminal (Rob) and his more reckless lifelong friend (Leo, who depends on Rob in large part because Rob is the only one in their group with a suitable getaway vehicle). That dynamic certainly informs the rest of the movie, but after the opening theft, Rob heads home to his bedridden father Oswald (Tom Fisher), and the story shifts emphasis from crime to kitchen-sink drama.
It’s not unusual to give a petty-criminal protagonist some family ties to inform his psychology and desperation, but in Looted this material has detail and texture sometimes missing from boilerplate melodrama. The types of scenes that might provide a few moments of depth in another film move to the foreground here, lingering around Rob and Oswald’s modest home in a depressed coastal town. Oswald wasn’t around much for Rob’s childhood; now he’s back in his hometown with asbestos in his lungs, waiting in vain for worker’s compensation.
Oswald doesn’t much care for Leo, but he takes a liking to Leo’s girlfriend Kasia (Morgane Polanski), who treats him kindly during a brief visit – and who may also be developing a preference for conflicted Rob over the raffish, inconsiderate Leo. Writer-director Rene Pannevis lets the domestic scenes play out at length (we see Rob’s multiple attempts to fix his dad a plate of chips for lunch), the characters’ sunlit environment contrasting with their bleak prospects. Rothwell, who looks like a rougher-hewn Domhnall Gleeson, holds the screen in these sequences. In fact, the whole cast strikes the right balance of charisma and believability; they’re compelling without seeming too glam for their economic misery.
Most of Looted takes place over the course of just a few days, and eventually it circles back to another episode of thievery, this one more ill-fated than the last. Though the scene is shot with striking urgency, the aftermath feels perfunctory. As the movie heads into its final stretch, it swings harder, and less effectively, between big-acting histrionics and dramatic avoidance: Characters elucidate their pain with clunky exposition, only to have the movie keep some major plot turns off-screen entirely. Pannevis splits the difference between catharsis and more open-ended lyricism, resulting in a bit of a shrug at the end. Rob, Leo, and Kasia don’t see an easy way out, and neither does the movie.
- Director: Rene Pannevis
- Starring: Charley Palmer Rothwell, Thomas Turgoose, Morgane Polanski
- Release date: November 6 (digital)